August 29 – Regeneration


Series Intro (in case you missed it last week)
As you read through the Bible you’ll notice that salvation is described with a lot of terms. To be saved is to be adopted by God (Eph. 1:5), to be justified before him (Rom. 5:1), to be in the process of sanctification (2 Cor. 3:18), to be destined for eternity with him (2 Cor. 5:18), and more. And notice that not all of that occurs at once; though a Christian has already been justified (cleared of guilt before God), they are in the process of sanctification, and will one day be glorified in his presence. Theologians call these different steps the order of salvation or ordo salutis, but saying it in Latin makes you sound like a snob.

There are a couple different ways you can break down this order, but our series will progress through it this way:

  • Week 1 – Predestination
  • Week 2 – Calling
  • Week 3 – Regeneration
  • Week 4 – Repentance and Faith
  • Week 5 – Justification
  • Week 6 – Transformation
  • Week 7 – Glorification

That’s right, week one we’re coming in hot with predestination. You’ll notice the order is somewhat chronological, starting with God’s actions in eternity past, predestination, and ending in our eternal future, glorification. All the steps in between, weeks 2-6, happen at the point of someone’s conversion; God calls us out of darkness and into the light of the gospel (1 Pet. 2:9), and all of a sudden we’re made alive (Eph. 2:4), we accept Jesus’ work in faith (Eph. 2:8) and repent of our sins (Acts 2:38), we’re made right with God (Rom. 5:1), and the Holy Spirit indwells us to transform our hearts, minds, and affections (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; John 16:13). Though, to be fair, transformation has both an initial aspect in our salvation and an ongoing aspect in our sanctification, which progresses through the rest of our life.

Our hope for this series is that from seven points of view we’ll see the panoramic grandeur of God’s work in salvation, and that we’ll leave with at least seven reasons for being utterly, eternally grateful for God’s loving kindness towards us in Jesus. Ephesians 1:3-14 tells us the ultimate purpose of salvation is to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:14). And may we finish knowing that God sent Jesus into the world to save sinners, such that 1. we proclaim God’s infinite goodness for saving our poor, needy souls and 2. we are full of every hope that he desires the salvation of our lost neighbors, coworkers, and friends too.

Passage Intro
In week 1 we looked at predestination out of Ephesians 1, and we turned to Ephesians 2 to see why predestination is necessary, because apart from God we are dead in our trespasses and sins, incapable of saving ourselves. Because we couldn’t choose God, God chose us. Then last week we saw where God’s eternal work of election comes to bear on present time, when God calls a dead sinner into life with him. We turned to John 11 to see a picture of this in Lazarus’ resurrection—just like Lazarus, apart from the work of God we’re dead in the tomb, so just like Lazarus we must hear Jesus say, “Come out!”

So all that might leave you wondering, how can someone who is dead in their trespasses and sins obey this call to live? How can someone who is an enemy of God (Rom. 8:7) and under his wrath (Eph. 2:4) suddenly trust his word and obey the command to “come out”? The answer to this is regeneration; God makes us “alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5), resurrecting our spiritual nature in order for us to step out of our tomb. From week one we’ve been seeing example after example of God’s grace, and here is another one: God calls a sinner to the life he himself provides, both issuing his command and giving what is necessary to fulfill that command.

So we’ll turn to John 3 to get a better idea of what regeneration is (we’ll actually be in this chapter for two weeks; next week we’ll read 3:16-21). This is Jesus’ midnight conversation with Nicodemus, who came knocking on Jesus’ door in under cover of darkness likely because he didn’t want his other Pharisee friends to see (being a “ruler of the Jews” meant he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish governing body subservient to Rome). Nicodemus is curious, but skeptical—he ventures a compliment, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God,” but seems to be working towards his real questions. Characteristically, Jesus bypasses the flattery and cuts to the chase with, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Jesus often does this in the gospels, entirely ignoring the initial question in favor of discussing more important matters (he even did it to his own mother; John 2:4). Whatever Nicodemus’ underlying agenda was, Jesus sets the new course for the conversation and we get to listen in on what it takes for someone to enter God’s kingdom.

Nicodemus’ flabbergasted questions bring some clarity. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” We might giggle at him taking it literally, but we live in a time when being “born again” is a common concept. For him, all this is new and weird, and Jesus explains it in a half rudimentary, half mysterious way. Basically, human beings must be “born” spiritually; brought into the world spiritually dead, they must be given spiritual life in order to belong to God’s kingdom and receive all the privilege and expectation that comes with being a heavenly citizen. It’s quite simple—unless you receive this second birth, you aren’t one of God’s people. But the rub, as I mentioned above, is how exactly to accomplish this. Jesus explains that it is only by a mysterious work of the Spirit, who blows like the wind wherever he wishes and, just like the wind, cannot be forced, coerced, or controlled.

Nicodemus is still perplexed—”How can this be?” he asks. When Jesus calls him the “teacher of Israel,” he’s indicating that everything he’s said is fully in line with the teaching of the Old Testament. This is like Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones gaining flesh and bones but still needing the Spirit of God to make them fully alive (Eze. 37), or like God fashioning Adam out of the dust and breathing into his nostrils (Gen. 2:7). But it’s also like Moses telling Israel they needed God to circumcise their hearts as well (Deut. 30:6), or like the prophets anticipating a new heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone (Eze. 11:19) with a new covenant written on it (Jer. 31:33). The rebirth isn’t some newfangled Christian concept, it’s actually the final answer to an ancient problem. How can a fallen people ever obey the one true God and hope to find their way back to him? It can only happen if God supplies a new heart in place of the old, and this itself is only possible through Jesus’ work to secure God’s grace for us. That’s likely why Jesus mentions being “lifted up” in this conversation (3:14-15), because only through his death is any new life possible.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read John 3:1-15 for us?

• What stood out to you in this passage?

• Why do you think Nicodemus is so confused?

• According to Jesus here, what does it means to be “born of the Spirit”?

• Thinking back to the past few weeks, why is being “born again” necessary for our salvation?

• How does this passage help you better understand God’s work in your life?

• Why do you think Jesus mentions being “lifted up” like the serpent?

• How does this passage help us know how to pray for others to come to faith?